Nascar Goes All-In With Green Initiative

New O&M spot to bow during Fox’s STP 400

As part of an ongoing eco-friendly initiative, Nascar on Sunday will roll out a new spot designed to illustrate how its drivers and corporate partners are chipping in to help make the planet a little greener.

Created by agency of record Ogilvy & Mather, the 30-second spot features Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle and his 3M Ford Fusion. Currently ranked third in the Nascar Sprint Cup standings, Biffle is an apt spokesman for going green, as he drives a Ford Taurus EcoBoost when he’s not on the track.

The spot does a lot of heavy lifting for Nascar which, as a significant consumer of fossil fuels, isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when the word “green” crops up in conversation. In a series of fast cuts, the O&M creative not only reminds fans that Nascar drivers use Sunoco Green E15 Ethanol-infused fuel to power their cars but also touches on the organization’s tree-planting initiative and its solar-powered Pocono Raceway track.

Although they don’t get nearly as much exposure as 3M and Ford (Biffle’s fire suit is festooned with the 3M logo, and the automaker is visible throughout the spot), corporate sponsors Coca-Cola and UPS also are in on the action.

The ad will debut Sunday afternoon during Fox’s coverage of the STP 400 from Kansas Speedway. Biffle finished fifth in last year’s race, which drew 6.83 million live-plus-same-day viewers.

According to Kim Brink, Nascar vp of marketing, the Biffle ad will air multiple times throughout the Fox broadcast, which begins at 1 p.m. EDT. In keeping with Nascar’s “Race to Green” initiative, many other elements of the race will bear a verdant hue. Miss Sprint Cup Kim Coon will be sporting a green fire suit to mark the occasion, and Kansas Speedway has emblazoned the Nascar Green logo onto the infield turf. And while the paint job won’t necessarily be green, the official pace car is a Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Given the inherent (and obvious) pitfalls that come with staking a claim in the green space, Nascar didn’t enter into any of this lightly. “In reality, when we kicked this off in 2009, we were not only concerned about facing criticism, but we encountered it,” said Mike Lynch, Nascar’s managing director of green innovation. “Some of reactions we got early on were much as you’d expect: ‘That’s counterintuitive; you’re a motorsport…how’s that going to work?’ So we were very methodical in our approach.”

Lynch said Nascar’s research suggested that fans of stock car racing were more likely to embrace green innovations than nonenthusiasts. “We’ve found that Nascar fans are 100 percent more likely to identify as green,” Lynch said. “That acceptance and enthusiasm helped us launch the greenest platform in U.S. sports history.”

Of course, the five-year-old initiative wouldn’t have caught on if the sponsors hadn’t thrown their support behind green. “It’s now an integrated piece of the brand mosaic,” Lynch said. “Literally everything we do in this space, every action we take, has a sponsor attached to it.”

As Brink notes, “Race to Green” differentiates itself from mere marketing/branding campaigns inasmuch as the effort produces results that actually have a discernible impact on the planet.

“Ford will plant one tree for every lap a Ford driver leads in either a Nationwide or Sprint Cup race,” Brink said, adding that UPS has teamed up with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant thousands of trees.

“Not only are we working to reforest areas that have been deforested by natural disasters, but the tree-planting campaign is also a way to help offset the carbon emissions from racing,” Brink said.

Nascar says a single tree absorbs about a metric ton of carbon dioxide, about the same amount generated by a Sprint Cup car that travels 500 miles.

Fox last October agreed to an eight-year extension of its existing rights deal with Nascar. Under the terms of the new agreement, Fox will pay an average of $300 million per year beginning in 2015. Nascar’s other rights holders, ESPN and Turner Sports, have not extended their own deals, both of which expire at the end of next year.